A good meal is music to the mouth. A good concert is music to the ears. I went to see Elton John in London at Bud Gardens recently and saw comparisons between his concert and a good meal.
The amuse bouche was a stunning performance of “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”. I somewhat naively picture Elton front and centre with nothing more than him and his piano gracing the stage. Instead, he was on the left side with a complete band. It was louder than I expected as well…perhaps in part due to the fact that three quarters of the audience was over 65 and probably needed a few extra decibels of help. It was a good starting bite by hitting hard and setting the tone for the remainder of the evening.
Benny and the Jets was next and reminded me that, like many restaurants, aging doesn’t mean a change in quality. Sure, Elton’s trademark magazeeeeeeeeeene has been replaced with a lower pitch version, but it’s still a damn good song.
Some of the most memorable restaurant experiences don’t necessarily involve food but often include the people around you. Take for instance the old couple that sat in front of me. He sat stoically with him arms crossed most of the concert while she looked around like a nosy neighbour looking for dirt on the guy in Row H Seat 5 that she could share during tomorrow’s coffee session. It lead me to believe that they probably got the tickets for Xmas, are against resale and wanted to humour their kids who bought them thinking that “Daniel” was a song they actually liked. On the other side of the aisle was a couple who hit the aisles to dance feverishly to any fast song including but not limited to “Philadelphia Freedom” and “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting (although it was a Monday and I’m not sure how they’d fair in a brawl..they were definitely lovers more than they were fighters).
The appetizers included a number of slower melodies including “Candle in the Wind”, “Levon” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”. The latter featured a yellow submarine type video montage of Elton’s life in the background including paying homage to his husband and kids. The bright lights of iphones waved in the air and were used by numerous concert goers to record clips of the show (or in some case the whole concert). I got a kick out of one guy who whipped out an ipad to do the same. It looked like a spotlight as the brightness of the screen emphasized the 8 or 10 annoyed face within his diameter.
Throughout the concert his showmanship matched the quality of each song; there was frequent hand raising Alan Shearer style while breaking from a piano medley. He also ended each song with a bang on the piano or some kind of appreciative gesture. He would wave, bow and solicit energy from the crowd in ways that made you forget he was 66.
The main course was surprisingly high tempo. Elton pounded the piano while his supporting band kept up with him nicely. The well dressed percussionist reminded me of a good bartender at a chic downtown restaurant. He rhythmically rattled his instruments like a cocktail shaker. I imagine he would mix up a mean cocktail. Come to think of it, many Elton songs would make great cocktail names….
Love Lies Bleeding– Vodka, housemade clamato, spice medley, worchestershire sauce and spicy, pickled green bean
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road– Bourbon, Galliano, Fresh Lemon juice and gold flakes
Rocket Man– Bombay gin, muddled berries, lime juice, soda water and egg white cloud
Amidst the fast pace was the infusion of some slower tunes including the recent “Ocean’s Away” which is a tribute to the often forgotten veterans of WW1. The video played in the background and created a sombre but not uncomfortable aura in the arena (even the crowd dancers took the opportunity to rest their weary limbs).
As Elton disappeared the crowd roared into waves of cheers and claps, demanding dessert to end a near perfect meal. Elton complied, returning for a two song encore which featured songs on polar ends of his musical spectrum (I suppose a good dessert often uses the same mentality). The first was “Your Song”, the haunting ballad which pays tribute to whoever you want it to. He dedicated it to the fans who have supported him throughout the years. I figured I would take the opportunity to follow suit and record a snippet for my whoever. He ended with the fast paced Crocodile Rock in which Elton summoned the crowd to sing along…a painful reminder of why most of the audience was singing from the crowd and not from the stage.
There is a lot of congruency between a good concert and a good meal. Restaurants and arenas are mediums for artistic expression. Sure, one stimulates the ear drums and the other the taste buds but in the end both reach out to the primal desires of human beings. The importance of both food and music are evident in the earliest of civilizations. People don’t mind paying premium prices if the goods and services provided are suburb. Finally, the music or food doesn’t have to appeal to everybody but it’s utter magic when it’s the right fit. If an Elton John concert was a restaurant, I’m sure it would easily get two Michelin stars.